She is an odd bird. And not just because her name is Carl Cheeken.
Carl's different because she has a cross beak--the top and bottom don't align. Viewed from the top it looks a little like an open pair of scissors. Although it's not necessarily a death sentence, having a cross beak makes it hard for a bird to eat and drink.
So cross-beak chickens are doubly rare. Most people, even those who keep flocks, don't see many of them. And few people are willing to take on a special-needs bird. There are lots of potential pets out there; not everybody wants to be responsible for an animal that presents challenges.
Lange Cheek isn't one of those everybodies. Carl is a member of her extensive urban backyard flock, offered to her by the breeder of some of her other birds (among them Silkies like Carl--known for small size, fluffy feathers, and good natures--along with Amaracaunas, Rhode Island Reds, and Mottled Houdans) because he knew that Lange would take care of the little bird, who was five weeks old at the time.
Challenge? What challenge? "She entertains me so much!" says the Hillcrest resident. "Because of her cross beak she has to get her whole face down in the water or food bowl in order to get anything to stay in. So there are days I go out to get her when her whole face is wet, so one can't help but laugh."
Most cross-beaks don't thrive, or don't get a chance to try. That's why we're not familiar with them. Carl (named for her resemblance to Bill Murray's character in the film Caddyshack, with a last name that echoes that of her owners) is definitely thriving, says Lange. The fuzzy-headed bird visits Hillcrest Animal Hospital monthly, where she's popular with the staff, to have her beak trimmed (most birds self-trim by scraping their beaks on hard surfaces). She hangs out with the family dogs, naps on the back of a chair in the kitchen while dinner is being made, and charms everyone with her happy little purr.
Lange Cheek isn't alone. Nearly every morning I cross paths with a young woman walking a handsome tri-colored three-legged border collie gamely hobbling along Kavanaugh Boulevard. A lively young boxer, missing an eye, is a frequent day care participant at the Dog Porch. An elderly Great Pyrenees lumbers along behind his human near Allsopp Park; no need for a leash. Exuberant young hound Dexter is back to barking happily in his yard after having spent the summer months undergoing expensive and extensive treatment with restricted activity so as not to disturb the parasitic heartworms that, if released into his bloodstream, could have killed him.
There used to be a golden retriever in my former west Little Rock neighborhood that got around by being buckled into a canine-sized wheelchair after his back legs became immobilized with hip dysplasia. And countless cat owners serve specialized made-from-scratch diets to their feline friends suffering from renal failure, diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, and hyperthyroidism.
All these owners had options. They didn't have to adopt a pet that requires special care that's often time-consuming and costly. They don't have to treat a dog or cat that has cancer, or heartworm, or glaucoma, or has been the victim of a debilitating physical injury; there's always the simpler solution of euthanization.
There are plenty of healthy animals in need of homes--especially in Arkansas, where we don't seem to care about controlling pet population by promoting and enforcing mandatory spay-neuter laws (except for animals acquired from an animal shelter or pet rescue organization, although not all shelters follow this requirement).
Why do some people choose to share their lives with those that are damaged, or sickly, or aging?
The best answer I've found to that question comes from Petswithdisabilities.org, a Maryland-based rescue organization that provides education, support, rescue and shelter: Because their spirits aren't broken.
Compassion is something you either have, or you don't. And it doesn't apply to every aspect of life. The people who take in special-needs animals? They've got it.
Ask Carl Cheeken.
Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.
Editorial on 12/16/2018
Print Headline: KAREN MARTIN: Support for pets in need